We’re nearing the half-way point! The hits keep on coming (literally), with RIFF’s countdown of 2020’s 60 best metal albums. If you’ve joined me just now, don’t miss parts one (60-51) and two (50-41)! Here the choices get harder, because I’d really recommend any of these albums to fans of the genre. But I’ll make these choices, like Killer Be Killed, so you don’t have to, and so you can call me a stupid moron for not including your favorite bands.
If you take issue with my choices, hit me up in the DMs. Especially do this if you think I forgot anyone, because I’d like to have even more bands on my to-listen list.
40. In The Company of Serpents – Lux — It’s really the theme of this record that helps it stand out. The band’s exploration of the metaphysical and symbolic meaning of light reflects on its take on progressive sludge metal. Some sections favor hard-hitting riffs and primitive rhythms, while others become expansive enough to rival the sun’s majestic power. Lux has all of the philosophizing grandeur you could want, but it also carries a personal vulnerability to deepen its impact. It doesn’t wear its heady imagery on its sleeve, but delving into the head-banging riffs reveals a lot more than initially meets the ear.
39. Winterfylleth – The Reckoning Dawn — For all the experimentation within the black metal style, there’s always something admirable about making mean, lean and emotional black metal. The British horde Winterfylleth have been honing its craft for 13 years, and it shows. The Reckoning Dawn has a compelling balance of melody, harshness and atmosphere, never going too far with one extreme to be lumped in with any sub-genres. It’s the kind of album where you can just leave it at this: If you like metal, don’t sleep on it.
38. Eye of Nix – Ligeia — In stark contrast to Winterfylleth, Eye of Nix takes a page from the Ved Buens Ende rulebook… meaning there really aren’t any rules at all. It’s fitting for a label like Prophecy Productions, which has repped plenty of bands no one knows what to do with. The main appeal here comes from Joy Von Spain’s insane voice. From operatic serenades to witchy shrieks, her delivery is truly an emotional rollercoaster. The instrumentation follows suit, presenting all manner of atmospheric explorations and progressive doom, wrapped together with dusky synths and tremolo-picking.
37. Kall – Brand — This album establishes Sweden’s Kall as much more than Lifelover 2.0. Yes, Kim Carlsson’s voice is as distinctive and polarizing as ever, but Brand’s psychedelic tendencies give it a much different character than the cold post-punk overtones of the previous band with some great saxophone solos, some catchy riffage and an insanely virtuosic bassist. This might sound indulgent, but people don’t call these guys the Velvet Underground of black metal for no reason. The songs breathe and flow with tact, leaving Carlsson to take care of the emotional abandon.
36. Wayfarer – A Romance With Violence — You could sum up A Romance With Violence as “black metal meets 16 Horsepower.” To be honest, it’s hard to think of a better sell than that. The Colorado band has centered on this unique style for a while now, and this album shows how far it has come. It functions well in terms of black metal, but the effect compares to the best in outlaw country. It actually embraces that style completely on more than one occasion, but the black metal element helps paint a bleaker depiction of the Wild West. It wasn’t pretty, but this thing’s tragic melancholy remains mesmerizing.
35. Killer Be Killed – Reluctant Hero — Reluctant Hero is the album where Killer Be Killed transcends supergroup blues. The songwriting shows less fear of stepping on each other’s toes, allowing the potent creativity of Max Cavalera (ex-Sepultura, Soulfly), Greg Puciato (the Dillinger Escape Plan), Troy Sanders (Mastodon) and Ben Koller (Converge) to flow more naturally. What results is still much more accessible than any of the aforementioned bands, but the arrangements are much more thoughtful and diverse. The melodies are catchier, the grooves hit harder and there’s a few more curveballs to appreciate.
34. Ether Coven – Everything is Temporary Except Suffering — One of the best bands to rise from the sludge metal underground, Ether Coven has earned this Century Media debut. This album is both sad and punishing, but it goes farther with the looming melancholy. Strings and mandolin find their place in the mix, as do some stunning clean baritone vocals. The riffs are simple and dismal, but so addictive that they become easy on the ear by default. The punk influence helps the intense energy, while the songwriting chops continually elevate each arrangement. They pulled off a Bjork cover… need I say more?
33. Sólstafir – Endless Twilight Of Codependent Love — While Sólstafir’s continual distancing from black metal reaches new territory here, Endless Twilight Of Codependent Love also brings more blast beats and screams than anyone expected. This makes for a polarized record, both heavy and balladic—and even has some English lyrics mixed in with the Icelandic! The reason it works comes down to how these guys create their vibe. The vocals are cutting in their emotion, and the most straightforward arrangements retain vitality and artistry. There’s still plenty of post-rock influence to enjoy, but this album proves Sólstafir could pull off a pure rock album if it wanted.
32. Igorrr – Spirituality and Distortion — Otherwise known as the weirdest band ever, these French experimentalists show no sign of compromising. Spirituality and Distortion effectively compartmentalizes the eclectic elements of Igorrr’s style with a bit less of the symphonic industrial metal element of the last album. Some tracks are straight breakcore, some are mostly straight baroque and some resemble dubstep at its most unconventional. But none of them sound the same. It’s definitely too out-there for casual listening, even by metal standards, but the fact that a band that combines electronica, chamber music, opera and black metal really exists is worthy of consideration by default.
31. Incantation – Sect Of Vile Divinities — It’s always interesting when a band’s influence truly manifests way after its inception. Incantation is ground zero for what some call “cavernous death metal,” which comprises uncompromising innovators like Hissing and Portal. It’s easy to see why the dark underbelly of death metal has so much reverence for these guys, as few bands have such a unique balance of simple barbarism, suffocating heaviness and technical tangents. That being said, Sect Of Vile Divinities finds Incantation honoring its legacy with another slab of inspired extremity to feed the imaginations of its descendants The blunt force trauma of New York death metal remains, but through the filter of crushing funeral doom and hellish dissonance.